TBWA chairman Jean-Marie Dru on philanthropy, Eminem’s vocabulary and the creative benefits of jetlag


June 12, 2019 9:01 am

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Jean-Marie Dru is the chairman of TBWA Worldwide, where, nearly 30 years ago, he coined the term “disruption,” which has been the agency’s mantra ever since. Disruptive brands and people change the status quo, not to destroy, but to create new and innovative things.

He’s the author of seven books on the topic, and his latest, “Thank You for Disrupting,” is out today. In it, he explores the business philosophies of entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey, Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Haier Group’s Zhang Ruimin.

In this episode of “Ad Block,” Dru talks about the work he does three days a week with the French Academy of Medicine Foundation and UNICEF France, where he is president. “What’s the most important thing for the four of us in this room?” he asks. “Health. And then what’s the most important thing for the future of everybody? Our children.”

The French national committee raises funds for UNICEF, which are distributed to more than 180 countries. But “it’s not only raising money,” Dru says. “It’s defending children’s rights everywhere in the world, including in my country. For instance, when Mr. Trump decided he would separate the children [on the U.S.-Mexico border] from their parents, which is very bad. We don’t separate them, but for that reason, children are in jail with their parents in France. That’s not good, either.” The organization also focuses on helping the 20 percent of French children who live below the poverty line.

At the French Academy of Medicine Foundation, Dru has made increasing access to medical care the sole priority of the institution. “If you want 6 billion people to be in good health, you need two things,” he says. “Research and access.” Without access, he adds, “you can have medicine for 5 percent of the population, and the other 95 percent won’t get the best.”

The foundation works with hospitals and facilities in countries like China and Haiti to train doctors and health care workers. “In the largest hospital in Shanghai, many of the doctors speak French,” Dru says, because they’ve trained in France. “If you want to be a surgeon, if you come to Paris, you are allowed to be in the operating room with the surgeon. In America—and I understand why, it’s because of the insurance companies—you can’t.”

Dru also talks about his love of classic films, which he can only find easily on streaming platforms, and his love of music, particularly The Beatles, whom he saw live in concert twice. “I watch many, many documentaries on Netflix about music. The last one was on Eminem—and I loved it by the way,” he says. “Did you know out of all the musicians in the last 50 years, he’s the guy with the largest vocabulary?”

He’s also a fan of rappers and poets the French call “slammers,” including Abd al Malik, a Paris-born slammer of Congolese descent. And he weighs in on the creative benefits of jetlag, the right time to drink rosé (not in Paris) and his eventual retirement from agency life.

“It’s kind of obvious that one day I will have to stop working for TBWA,” the 72-year-old says. “I would not like to, but I think it has to happen one day, obviously.”

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